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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

HABEMVS PAPAM

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful

I join the rest of the world – Catholic and non-Catholic – Christian and non-Christian – in congratulating the Catholic Church on electing their new Pontiff, Pope Francis I. May the Lord our God guide him to all that is right and good in all of his actions. I congratulate my fellow Americans who are Catholic on the election of their new Pope, and I pray for them the very best.

It is quite interesting that the new Pope is a Jesuit, and that this new Pope took on the name of the head of another Catholic Order, the Franciscans. I pray that this sense of unity and tolerance permeates all communities of faith in the days, weeks, and years to come. I was honored to witness his announcement, and I was happy that a Jesuit became Pope. I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, and I was amazed by how wonderful of teachers they are. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the men who take on the tremendous challenge of being members of the Society of Jesus.

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As a Muslim, who worships the very same Lord our God, who venerates and honors our Master Jesus Christ, and who loves and honors his mother, I pray that this same sense of tolerance that the new Pope has shown spreads between our two faith communities. We may differ in our theologies, but we are still brothers and sisters in Adam, upon whom be peace. We may differ in how we worship, but we still – nevertheless – call upon the very same Deity as our Lord and Sustainer. We may look at Christ in very different ways, but we still both love and honor him nonetheless.

Indeed, I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, but I still would be blessed to be a member of the “Society of Jesus,” by which I mean a world society in which the principles of Jesus Christ – and all of God’s Prophets – are followed and implemented. Indeed, Christ’s principles are the very same of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the Sermon on the Mount could have just as easily been given by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as it was by Christ (pbuh).

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I pray that – with the election of a new Pope, Francis I – our two faith communities come together and work for the common good; to champion the rights of the less fortunate, as Cardinal Bergoglio was known to do; to work together to bring peace, prosperity, health, and wealth – both material and spiritual – to all of the world’s people. I echo the words of God, as revealed in the Qur’an, to the new Pope on this day of his election:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works. Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

Congratulations to all of the world’s Catholics on the election of their new Pope. God be with him, and you, and with us all. Amen.

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Our “First Love” Is Always There

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Given that is the time of year for love, sort of, I had blogged about a particular song, “Lullabies” by singer/songwriter Yuna (a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf, by the way). I wrote about how the song reminds me of someone who wanted to “go away” with the Lord but then decided not to, only to regret the decision later.  I had concluded that:

we should never let go of the Beloved, who is truly our “First Love.” He loved us first, and one of the greatest manifestations of this Divine Love is that He gave us life when we were dead. Thus, we cannot help but love Him in return. And we must love Him first, for He loved us first. Thus, He is always our “First Love.” And we should never let Him go.

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Yet, say – for whatever reason – someone does let go of his “First Love”? Say, for whatever reason, someone forsakes the path of God and takes his own? Say, for whatever reason, someone decides not to walk with God, but rather walk with someone or something else? Does God go anywhere?

Absolutely not.

The Lord always remains there, waiting patiently for the person to come back to Him. That is part of His Beauty; that is part of His Mercy; that is part of His Grace. So, even though I see that song’s narrator as lamenting the decision to forsake the Lord and His path, and as the song says:

Like lullabies you are,
Forever in my mind.
I see you in all,
The pieces in my life.
Though you weren’t mine,
you were my first love.

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That doesn’t mean that you can’t come back. Yes, I said we should never let Him go in the first place. Nevertheless, for those who have – for whatever reason – they can always come back. The Lord will not go anywhere. He will always be there. His love will always endure, always be strong, always be there to comfort and soothe.

That is why He is such an Awesome God. That is why He is so worthy of worship. That is why He is so Wonderful a Master. His Name be praised for ever and ever, Amen.

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A Very Happy Day

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

No, it’s not the “Muslim Christmas.” I have never put lights on my house, placed a tree in the family room, and exchanged gifts. Nevertheless, it is a very happy day for me and Muslims all around the world: the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, or Maulid un Nabi, as it is known in Arabic.

In the Islamic calendar, it is the 12th day of the month of Rabi al Awal, and it will occur later this month. Now, the puritans, literalists, and fundamentalists insist that celebrating this day is “innovation,” or bida’h. They rail against Muslims commemorating this day, because the “Prophet never celebrated his birthday.”

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Indeed, it is not recorded that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ever celebrated his birthday, that’s true. Yet, as a Muslim, how can I not be happy about the Prophet’s birthday? On that day, the Lord manifested His love for me in one of the most profound ways: sending me my guide in my life. On that day, the Lord blessed me with sending me His Emissary, to show me how to life my life in the best way possible. On that day, the Lord sent into the world His Last Messenger to take me out of the darkness into the light.

How can I not celebrate that? How can I not be happy about that?

All around the world, Muslims show their joy and happiness over the Prophet’ s birth in a variety of ways: some sing songs about him; others pass out candy and treats: in fact, in Egypt (from where my ancestors hail), there is a specific candy called “the Maulid candy.” And, yes, many hang lights in their houses and mosques.

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In the Chicago area, there have been numerous celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday in which Muslims got together, shared sweets, and sang songs and read poetry commemorating and remembering the Prophet Muhammad. I attended one of these, and it was one of the most uplifting experiences I have had. I left with such an invigorated love for the Prophet Muhammad.

How can this be wrong?

In fact, it is this love for the Prophet that led me to publish my book of poetry, Noble Brother. In it, I tell the Prophet’s story entirely in poetry. I wanted to share how his life and ministry has shaped me, but in an entirely different way. And in it, I wrote about the day he was born:

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A sacred union was ordained from Above
Two souls joined in dignity and love
A child was conceived by the blessed pair
But father passed away before he could see his heir

The burden was light for now widowed mother
Who has to carry child without comfort of father
A voice came to her in the dark of the night
Showing her palaces from afar with a glorious light 

The light emanates from her womb which holds
A special child, about whom tales will be told
And the voice instructs her to ask the Only
To seek refuge in Him from both envier and envy

 The glorious day comes and the star is shone
A glorious blessing from the Lord of the Throne
“He has come!” declares the follower from before
And expectations are high from places galore

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Nobleman become father lifts up the child in glee
And declares to the world that “Praised is he.”
And now the time has come for all of the world
To worship the One and Only, our Most Precious Lord.

It is almost as if I cannot help but be happy about that day: for, on that day, the spiritual journey that led me to this place in my life took its first step: the birth of the man who would bring me my faith; the birth of the man who would show me how to truly live; the birth of the man who would show me my God.

No, the Mawlid is not an “official religious festival,” per se. Yet, still, that day is so important for Muslims all over the world, for their beloved Prophet was born on that day. How can celebrating this day be wrong?

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My Jihad: Loss and Heartbreak

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This was my contribution to the My Jihad campaign, a national effort spearheaded right here in Chicago, to reclaim the term Jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.

Loss and Heartbreak

Every day, I get up early in the morning to try to help other people feel better by the Grace of God. Every day, I get up early – and sometimes come home very late – to help someone else have a little less pain. Every day, I live a dream come true: being a physician, and it is a blessing beyond measure.

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I work in the field of Pulmonary and Critical Care, and so – every day – I take care of people who have been ravaged by the destruction wrought by cigarette smoking. I see people who cannot breathe because their lungs have been destroyed by said cigarette smoke, and I try to help them breathe a little better. In addition, I take care of patients who are critically ill and must stay in the intensive care unit for a time. In many instances, these patients are so sick to be near death.

And it is my honor to work as hard as I can to bring them out of their life-threatening illness. Being a doctor is a tough life, and many times it is a struggle that can be overwhelming. But is a struggle that I am privileged to undertake. Most of the time, by the Grace of God, the medical team and I are successful, and our patients can live to see many more years of life.

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Sometimes, however, despite doing everything humanly possible, the medical team and I are not successful, and our patients succumb to their disease. And many times, I unfortunately must give families the bad news and help counsel them through the profound grief at the loss of their loved one. Yet, one time, the tables were turned on my wife and me.

It was on the day our daughter passed away.

Our eldest daughter was afflicted by a crippling genetic disorder called Ataxia-Telangiectasia, and as a result of this illness, she developed Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma. After undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy, she developed septic shock: an overwhelming systemic response to infection. And despite a truly heroic effort on the part of her medical team, she lost her battle and passed away on June 7, 2009.

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Ever since that day, my heart has been searing from a pain that is truly indescribable. Ever since that day, my wife and I have tried to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and try to move on. Indeed, the Lord has not abandoned us in our tragedy. He has given us so much joy in the years since. Nevertheless, the pain of her loss is still so fresh, so acute, that I sometimes cannot breathe from the agony.

What’s worse, everything at work reminds me of her affliction. Every ICU room looks like the one in which she died. Every time a patient needs to breathe with the help of a special BiPAP machine, it can remind me of when she went through the same thing. When I stand at the bedside of a patient with a similar type of shock, it reminds me of those truly horrific hours when my daughter was clinging to the shards of her fragile life. And I when I try to comfort a husband, or a wife, or a mother, or a daughter, or a son -screaming out in pain at the death of their loved one – it gives me a terrible pain in my heart as well.

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There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my beautiful daughter and remember the terrible torture of having to watch her die in front of my eyes. There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t scream out in horror that I lost my baby forever. Sometimes, I want to literally scream out – to try to comfort the devastating torment I endure each and every day.

But I don’t, and that is my Jihad.

“Jihad” is Arabic for “struggle,” and in Islam, “Jihad” is the sacred struggle to bring good in this world. It can mean different things to different people. For me, my Jihad is to keep myself together and not shrink away into a world of grief and sadness.

I do this for the sake of my wife, to try to be there for her and help comfort her even greater agony and terror. I do this for the sake of my surviving children, so they can know a happy life and not one with constant sadness. And I do this for the sake of my critically ill patients, so I can think clearly about the proper treatment plan they need so they can get better.

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But, it is really, really hard.

And so, each and every day, I reach out to the Lord for His help and His comfort. I reach out to The Lord for His grace and mercy because, without Him, there is no way I could have made it this far. But, even with God’s help, the pain is still there, for losing a child is the worst thing a parent can endure. And it is a Jihad I will have to endure for the rest of my life.

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